Ask any Briton to conjure up their most vivid image of Boris Johnson, and chances are it would be the now prime minister stuck in a zipper 20 meters above the ground in a crowded park in London, for what a newspaper described as “five, awful goolie hugs” minutes.
It was high summer, the Olympics in central London, and this was just another of Johnson’s countless mayoral PR hijackers – chaotic, amateurish, staged – and yet somehow endearing to many. While the zipper’s pulley gear strained, groaned and stopped, Johnson croaked “help, bring me some rope … my kingdom for a stepladder”, but managed to keep waving the two little Union Jacks in his hands while media flashed footage across the globe. The moment would go viral, prompting then-Prime Minister David Cameron to joke that Boris Johnson seemed to “defy gravity”.
This week, the very characteristics that defined Johnson’s electoral Midas touch exploded, and his political future hangs in a more flimsy thread, conditioned by the results of an investigation into breaches of lockdown rules and backroom ruminants by the so-called “1922 committee” . the parliamentary monarchs of the Conservative Party.
Cameron has since skewedly observed that Johnson “has always been able to get away with things that just mortals can’t”. Described by his former boss, newspaper editor Max Hastings, as a “tasteless joke imposed on the British people”; taken in lying several times about more affairs and secret paternity battles; quarrel over who paid for luxury wallpaper and renovations in the number 10 apartment and now caught in holding booze parties during lockdown. The only leaders of a Western democracy who can match him in the Teflon effort are certainly Donald Trump and Italy’s bunga-bunga lover Silvio Berlusconi.
And yet, this latest scandal, to host a party in the garden at number 10 at the height of the first wave of COVID-19 in the UK, can just go on – and should mean an end to his leadership. In terms of a realistic, objective view of politics, a prime minister responsible for emergency laws to protect public health during a pandemic, which then openly breaks them, should not survive. It is a beneficial reminder that dr. Catherine Calderwood, Scotland’s chief physician, fell on her own sword immediately after admitting she had visited her own north coast holiday home with her husband and dog. And that Allegra Stratton, Johnson’s press secretary, tearfully withdrew after answering test questions about a party she did not actually attend.
This time it was Johnson’s own private secretary who sent out an email invitation to 100 (yes one-zero-zero) unrelated guests asking them to BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle of Booze) to a garden party early on the evening of May 20, 2020 – a night in which 500 people died in England alone.
Less than a month before, Britain hit its first rise in infection with more than 1,000 deaths recorded in a 24-hour period. Britain has lost 151,000 of its citizens since the country was put in the first of several lockdowns on March 23, 2020. There are few in Britain who do not know anyone – a friend, a family member, a friend of a friend – who has died of COVID-19. Even worse, many thousands of people have been forced to say goodbye to their loved ones via FaceTime, phone in hand instead of holding a human hand.
Despite Johnson’s uncharacteristically humble apology in the House of Commons on Wednesday, the nation’s collective, glowing rage has merged on social media, in pubs and around the family’s dinner tables. Johnson’s persona finally seems to have changed in the public mind from what is GuardianMarina Hyde calls an “addled Humpty Dumpty” to a monster that took the piss out of the nation.
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